Arthur Silber is back, with piercing insights that rip the veil which even self-proclaimed dissenters still draw across the blood-soaked reality of what Silber aptly calls the "Death State" that has long "wrapped the world in flames" (to quote the preferred method of resolving diplomatic conflicts famously voiced by Abe Lincoln's secretary of state) from its mephitic base on the Potomac.
As always with Silber, you must read the whole piece (and follow the links) to get the full force of the argument, which is nuanced, multifarious and deeply considered, but here is just the briefest excerpt to send you on your way:
I repeat a few words I first wrote at the beginning of 2009...:
For more than a hundred years, the foreign policy of the United States government has been directed to the establishment and maintenance of global dominance. To this end, violence, overthrow, conquest and murder have been utilized as required ... More and more, oppression and brutalization have become the bywords of domestic policy as well. Today, the United States as a political entity is a corporatist-authoritarian-militarist monstrosity: its major products are suffering, torture, barbarism and death on a huge scale.
I repeat the fundamental point to make certain there is no misunderstanding as to where I stand on this question: as a political entity, the United States is an endlessly destructive monstrosity. The overwhelming majority of people -- including, I regret to say, even many of those who are severely critical of the United States government -- fail to understand this point in anything close to the thorough and consistent manner required. This failure is the result of an earlier one: an inability to grasp fully what it means to revere the sacred value of a single human life.
When you've done that, scoot on over to Truthdig, where you will find William Pfaff writing in a similar vein about the bloody deceptions of the Death State: past, present -- and future. Some excerpts:
It is a dismaying reflection that the facilitators of major violence thus far in the 21st century have been lies told by democratic governments. The lies are continuing to be told, about the supposed “existential” menace posed by Iran to Israel, America and (if you believe some European leaders) Western Europe ... Injustice and lies in the Middle East were responsible for unnecessary new wars in the new century, in which the United States took the lead. This time the lies were ideologically motivated and expedient lies—first, that Saddam Hussein bore responsibility for the September 2001 attacks on United States. He did not.
Next was the fiction that Hussein’s government, during the period of U.N. sanctions before 2003, was able to secretly construct nuclear weapons, despite the efforts of Western intelligence to detect them or deter him, and the presence of U.N. inspectors. There were no such weapons. ...
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reportedly sent a secret letter to President Barack Obama in January reviewing the military options available if diplomacy and the new American attempt to intensify international sanctions on Iran fail to produce the desired halt in Iran’s effort, if that is what it is, to build a nuclear deterrent. If Iran does pursue a nuclear capability, once again it is to deter attack. Precisely the same objection exists to theories of Iranian aggression as to those lies put forward in 2002-03 about Iraq posing a nuclear menace to the world. Once more, the threat is a polemical invention, intended to frighten American and Israeli (and European) voters and to prompt a preemptive attack on Iran ...
The release of Gates' memo was part of the usual factional cat-fighting among the militarist courtiers: some want to attack Iran now, some want to wait until later -- or as that great liberal-progressive hero Admiral Fallon once said of the human beings in Iran: "These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them." For now, most of the factionalists lean toward the Fallon scenario: crush the insects later, when we don't have so much on our plate, and it will be more profitable.
And thus the Nobel Peace Laureate who is temporarily managing the Death State is now pushing hard for even more sanctions on the Iranians for the crime of ... developing a nuclear energy program as allowed by international treaty and inspected to a fare-thee-well by international observers. The defenders of the Nobelist -- I suppose we must call him the Death Laureate -- point to his push for sanctions as proof of his "different" approach to the "threat" of Iran. But what is the reality of such sanctions? Again, Arthur Silber nailed it well, in a piece from 2009:
A sanctions regime is not an alternative to war: it is the prelude to attack or invasion. Moreover, sanctions murder a hideous number of innocent people as surely as more overt acts of war.
We estimate between 500,000 to 1 million Iraqis died in the 1990s, a very large proportion being children. To what end? Not, Lando maintains, to destroy Saddam Hussein's WMDs but to force him out. ... The CIA badly miscalculated that sanctions, coupled with Iraq's devastating defeat, would result in a military coup, toppling Saddam. Anything but. The sanctions and Saddam's heightened repression insured his survival--much to the frustration of Western leaders ... The sanctions worked only as partly intended: They imposed untold suffering on the population. Americans at the UN blocked a request to ship baby food because adults might use it. They vetoed sending a heart pill that contained a milligram of cyanide because tens of thousands of such pills could become a lethal weapon. The banned list included filters for water treatment plants, vaccines, cotton swabs and gauze, children's clothes, funeral shrouds. Somehow, even Vietnamese pingpong balls found their way to the proscribed list.
Sanctions devastated the country's medical system, once one of the best in the region. Sanctions insured that malnutrition would morph into virtual death sentences, as Lando notes. Babies died in incubators because of power failures; others were crippled with cerebral palsy because of insufficient oxygen supplies. ...
In late 1994 the New York Times reported on children in filthy hospitals, dying with diarrhea and pneumonia, people desperately seeking food, and Iraq's inability to sell its oil--the country faced "famine and economic collapse." Without doubt, the sanctions consolidated Saddam's power. UN Administrator Denis Halliday wrote that the people blamed the United States and the UN for their travails, not Saddam Hussein. Halliday resigned, refusing to administer a program that he called "genocide."
This is what "tough" sanctions by a progressive, humanitarian interventionist can do. And this is the kind of thing the Iranians have to look forward to -- while they wait to be consumed in a mushroom cloud, that is.
For as we all know, Laureate Obama and his Pentagon warlord recently made the threatened nuclear destruction of the millions of human beings in Iran a centerpiece of their new, "more restrained" nuclear weapons doctrine. As John Caruso notes (see original for links):
Obama is also on the record as stating that "I think we should keep all options on the table" with regard to Iran. That's the standard language in which US nuclear threats are couched, of course, and US politicians are careful to stick to that formulation in order to allow apologists to argue that they didn't mean what they clearly meant. But Obama's Secretary of Defense gave the game away in his remarks about the Nuclear Policy Review:
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that the -- I actually think that the NPR has a very strong message for both Iran and North Korea, because whether it's in declaratory policy or in other elements of the NPR, we essentially carve out states like Iran and North Korea that are not in compliance with NPT.
And basically, all options are on the table when it comes to countries in that category, along with non-state actors who might acquire nuclear weapons.
So if there is a message for Iran and North Korea here, it is that if you're going to play by the rules, if you're going to join the international community, then we will undertake certain obligations to you, and that's covered in the NPR. But if you're not going to play by the rules, if you're going to be a proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you.
So let's put this together:
1. The Nuclear Posture Review (PDF) declares that "the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations."
2. Gates says this language is specifically intended to "carve out states like Iran and North Korea." And for these states, as Gates stated repeatedly, ...
3. ..."all options are on the table." So Gates is explicitly threatening that the United States may use nuclear weapons to "deal with" Iran and North Korea.
4. Finally, Obama reiterated both his and Gates' threat that "all options are on the table" when he said his administration's purpose is to "sustain our nuclear deterrent" for Iran and North Korea, furthermore stating that this threat is intended as an "incentive" to those nations.
To summarize: the Obama administration has just made an explicit nuclear threat against Iran and North Korea, for the political goal of coercing them into complying with the US interpretation of their NPT obligations.
This is the Department of Defense's official definition of terrorism:
(DOD) The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.
So the "threat of unlawful violence...intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political" is terrorism. Or in other words, by the DoD's own definition, Barack Obama is a terrorist—and given that his threats involve the use of nuclear weapons, it follows straightforwardly that Obama is more specifically a nuclear terrorist. And not only is he a nuclear terrorist; as the one person who has access to a massive nuclear arsenal, the stated willingness to use it outside of the realm of direct self-defense, and the power to follow through on that threat, Barack Obama is currently the only nuclear terrorist on the entire planet.
Nuclear terrorism is of course the logical endpoint of a Death State. And as Caruso rightly notes, Barack Obama constantly, ceaselessly threatens Iran with nuclear destruction -- and has done so from the very start of his campaign for the presidency. The continual, open threat to murder millions of innocent, defenseless human beings is indeed "an evil monstrosity" -- one so gargantuan that very few people seem able to grasp its reality.
But Silber sees through, and sees true. We are once more in his debt for fixing our eyes on the sulfurous essence of Death State, behind all the sound and fury of the factional squabbles of our most monstrous elites.
Clinton declared that “we do not have the right to resort to violence — or the threat of violence — when we don’t get our way. “
Unless you’re the government.
The four million Americans arrested for marijuana violations during Clinton’s reign were victims of government violence and government threats of violence. The “fact” that Clinton never inhaled did not prevent the drug war from ravaging far more lives during his time in office. The number of people arrested for drug offenses rose by 73% between 1992 and 1997. The Clinton administration bankrolled the militarization of local police, sowing the seeds for a scourge of no-knock raids at wrong addresses and a massive increase in efforts to intimidate average citizens in big cities around the country....
Clinton’s Iraq policy relied on systemic violence. The U.S. was the lead country in enforcing and perpetuating the blockade on Iraq that resulted in hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dying. U.S. planes carried out hundreds of bombing runs on Iraq, and volleys of American cruise missiles slammed his country during his reign.
Bill Clinton has often acted like his 78-day bombing assault on Serbia in 1999 was his finest hour... Clinton’s bombing campaign killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Serb civilians. From intentionally bombing a television station, Belgrade neighborhoods, power stations, bridges (regardless of the number of people on them at the time), to “accidentally” bombing a bus (killing 47 people), a passenger train, marketplaces, hospitals, apartment buildings, and the Chinese embassy, the rules of engagement for U.S. bombers guaranteed that many innocent people would be killed. ...
All of this is true enough. Even so, I think the New York Times is to be praised for giving the Big Ole Dawg this platform on the anniversary of the bombing. After all, if you want to know about the use of extremist violence in politics, why not ask an expert?
The other day I was reading the New York Review of Books in a bookstore café. I saw a large ad in the bottom corner of a page; it began with this quote, in bold capitals:
"WHY IS IT A CRIME FOR ONE MAN TO MURDER ANOTHER, BUT NOT FOR A GOVERNMENT TO KILL MORE THAN A MILLION PEOPLE?"
My first reaction, before I read further, was a feeling of surprise that someone had articulated the case against the Iraq war so clearly – and had bought expensive space in the magazine to bring this unpunished, unrepented – indeed, unacknowledged – war crime to the national consciousness again.
A moment later, I saw that it was actually an ad for an exhibition in New York City about Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish exile and U.S. government advisor who first coined the term and developed the concept of "genocide." Under a picture of Lemkin's wartime government ID card, the ad goes on: "Before Raphael Lemkin, that kind of killing had no name. Today we know it as genocide." Then comes the title of the exhibition:
Letters of Conscience: Raphael Lemkin and the Quest to End Genocide.
The life and work of Raphael Lemkin is a worthy topic for an exhibition, of course, and I wish it all success. But still, I was struck by how aptly his words described our own situation. For by the same scientific measurement tools used by the U.S. and UK governments to determine the extent of mass slaughters in Rwanda, Darfur and other places around the world, the war of aggression launched by those two governments against Iraq in 2003 has by now resulted in the death of more than one million Iraqis.
This, from a war launched unilaterally by the Anglo-American alliance without UN sanction, against a nation that had not attacked them, had not threatened to attack them, was not capable of attacking them – and had no connection whatsoever to the 9/11 attacks, which even today are cited as the main reason for the invasion of Iraq. Just a few weeks ago, Tony Blair was passionately defending the unprovoked attack by saying that 9/11 "changed everything," and meant that the Anglo-American alliance could not "take the risk" that Iraq might, at some point, somehow, pose some kind of threat to the two rich, powerful, nuclear-armed nations thousands of miles away.
And of course, the invading soldiers themselves had been indoctrinated with the idea that the rape of Iraq was "payback for 9/11," as numerous news stories cited at the time (such as this one, which John Caruso reminded us of just the other day). This attitude was likewise shared by the great and good of American establishment, such as prominent, prize-winning liberal columnist Thomas Friedman, who famously said that 9/11 meant that the United States had to strike at some Muslim country – "we could have hit Saudi Arabia…could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could" – as revenge for the attacks. That is, the U.S. government had to attack and destroy an entire nation because of what the U.S. government itself said was a terrorist attack by 19 stateless, renegade extremists. And this, even if the target country had no connection with the attack. That is, hundreds of thousands of innocent people were required to die as "payback for 9/11"; it didn't matter who they were, or where they were, as long as they were Muslims. This was the mindset of the centrist, mainstream, honored, respected American elite, as expressed by one of its most honored and respected representatives.
Recall too that by the time the unprovoked invasion was launched in March 2003, the Anglo-American alliance had by its own admission already killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children (not counting adults) through the draconian sanctions the alliance ruthlessly enforced against the people of Iraq. This record of mass death was publicly defended by then Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who said that the cost of the sanctions – at that time, 500,000 Iraqi children – was "worth it." And this was in 1996; the murderous sanctions had seven more years to run.
This then is the background of the still on-going war and occupation: A minimum of a million dead – most of them children – before the first shot was even fired in the March 2003 invasion. A bare minimum of a million people – the overwhelming majority of them innocent, non-combatant civilians – killed by the war and the ravening chaos it unleashed across Iraqi society.
But not a single person has ever faced trial, or censure, or even the slightest personal inconvenience for the murder of more than 2 million Iraqis over the past two decades. The bipartisan perpetrators of these crimes – the leading lights of the Clinton and Bush Administrations – live ensconced in comfort and privilege. Many of them of Clinton’s associates – including his wife – are once more in power in the Obama Administration. Many of Bush’s associates – including his Pentagon chief, most of his top generals, and his intelligence apparatchiks – are still in office. Other accomplices of these two militarist factions are biding their time in profitable sinecures until the turning of the courtier’s wheel brings them back to the palace halls again. And of course, Barack Obama himself has hailed the perpetuation of the Iraqi war crime as an “extraordinary” accomplishment, even as he continues to protect, entrench and expand the blood-drenched policies of his predecessors.
And so even the work of Raphael Lemkin is being celebrated in New York City, the question he raised at the end of the Second World War still casts its condemning echoes across the bipartisan political elite of the United States today:
"WHY IS IT A CRIME FOR ONE MAN TO MURDER ANOTHER, BUT NOT FOR A GOVERNMENT TO KILL MORE THAN A MILLION PEOPLE?"
Raphael Lemkin dreamed that this question would be laid to rest by the machinery of international law and an evolutionary leap in humanity’s moral consciousness. But today we can see that the answer is – as another American visionary has put it – blowing in the wind: the howling wind of the depravity of power.
The piece below was posted last year. However, it was one of many pieces wiped out from the database in one of the many hack attacks the site has endured over the years. Having run across the original text in my files, I wanted to get it back "on the record" here at Empire Burlesque. And sadly, it is still all too relevant.
If George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and other principals of the previous administration were ever brought to trial for war crimes, I would offer my services, in all sincerity, to their defense. For I think they would have a strong case to make, one that would be of vital, perhaps decisive importance for the future of the nation -- and the world.
I. The Case for the Prosecution
To see the Bush Faction in the dock -- charged with launching a war of aggression and creating a worldwide gulag of torture and illegal detention -- is of course the fervent dream of millions of people across the globe. Such a sight would seem to provide tangible proof that the ideal of justice cannot be vanquished entirely by the brute force of elite power.
The evidence supporting these charges is mountainous, and growing all the time. What's more, the essentials are undisputed, even by the defendants themselves. In the case of aggression, the public reasons offered by the Bush White House for the invasion of Iraq were even less substantial than those put forth by Adolf Hitler for the invasion of Poland in 1939. And this is true even if you accept the highly disputable notion that the Bush Administration really believed that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, it would be true even if Saddam really did have weapons of mass destruction.
In the Nazis' case, there was at least the pretense of a (faked) direct attack on German territory; not even Hitler dared publicly base his invasion on a mere threat, on the presumption that Germany might be attacked at some point in the future. But even in the best-case scenario, giving the American government the full (and wholly undeserved) benefit of the doubt, the Bush Administration launched a war that has killed more than a million innocent people solely on the basis of a mere threat, from weapons that had never been used against the United States -- and whose existence had not even been proven. If this is a legal, moral justification for war, then every American president of the last half-century has been guilty of a treasonous dereliction of duty for not launching a pre-emptive attack on the Soviet Union, whose actually existing arsenals of nation-destroying weapons were aimed openly and specifically at the United States for decades.
So the facts of the aggressive war case are not in dispute. And no, the UN resolutions stemming from the 1991 Gulf War are not relevant; nothing in them gave any member nation the right to launch military action unilaterally to enforce the resolutions without the prior approval of the Security Council. In every way, then, the invasion of Iraq was a clear violation of the UN Charter's very clear and specific strictures against aggressive war -- strictures which the United States helped formulate and had publicly subscribed to for almost 60 years at the time of the Iraq invasion. There is no genuine legal basis for denying that the invasion of Iraq constitutes the formal war crime of military aggression, as Arthur Silber, for one, has pointed out in great detail.
The torture case is, if anything, even clearer. According to the laws of the United States, it is simply illegal to order or carry out torture, at any time, under any circumstances whatsoever. Moreover, the question of what constitutes torture is clearly addressed -- and even though Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton colluded to exempt certain exquisite psychological and indirect tortures devised by the CIA from the law (as Noam Chomsky reminds us), the existing legal threshold for defining torture still falls far, far below the one adopted by the Bush Administration; i.e., anything short of death, organ failure or permanent physical damage. And of course, even these cynical and sinister standards were routinely violated: there have been many deaths -- murders -- as a result of the torture program which no one now denies was established, maintained and closely monitored by the Bush White House.
And again, the accused do not denying employing these practices; on the contrary, they champion them openly, and have long done so, as in the case of Dick Cheney's acknowledgment and praise for waterboarding -- a torture technique that has been prosecuted as a serious crime in American courts for generations, and was regarded, by the American government, as a basis of war crimes charges against Japanese officials following World War II.
Thus, by any understanding of the law -- from the most common-sense reading to the most arcane and convoluted parsing -- it is clear that the capital crime of torture has been committed by the Bush Administration. Any court proceeding would immediately establish this fact.
To sum up: Did the leading members of the Bush Administration instigate and collude in actions that resulted in a war of aggression and the deliberate, systematic infliction of torture on captives? Yes. Do they admit -- even boast -- that these actions occurred? Yes. What defense can they offer then?
II. In Defense of George W. Bush
Faced with prosecution for their admitted deeds, the principals of the Bush Administration would have only one defense: precedent. They would have to show that their actions had been accepted practice in American government for many, many years -- from the very beginning, in fact -- and had never been regarded as prosecutable offenses before. To imprison them now -- or even execute them -- for carrying on the standard policies and practices of bipartisan governance stretching back for generations would surely constitute cruel and unusual punishment. It would be selective prosecution. It would be nothing less than the "criminalization of political differences" -- for the historical record clearly shows that aggression and torture have always been treated in the American system as political implements, tools of political policy, and not as criminal matters.
Thus the Bush defense team would have to put forth a mountain of historical evidence, laying out in great detail the use of military aggression and torture (both directly and by client states under American direction, for American purposes) over the entire course of U.S. history. Naturally, they would focus most of their attention on the decades since World War II, as this would involve institutions, agencies -- and even some of the same people -- that serve as instruments of American policy and practice today; It would be easier, and more relevant, to show the continuity with their more immediate bipartisan predecessors. But the older historical material would also be important in setting out the long-established precedents and philosophies in which modern policies are rooted.
It is here that I would want to contribute to the defense. I would gladly act as a lowly researcher for them, sifting through the accumulation of historical fact and insightful analysis provided over the years by such noted writers as Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Arthur Silber, Alfred McCoy, Richard Seymour, Fred Anderson and Andrew Clayton, and far too many more to mention. And beyond these overviews and works of synthesis, there are the innumerable, highly detailed articles, studies, monographs, and full-scale scholarly works produced by historians in every field of specialty: political, economic, legal, cultural, military, and so on.
A war crimes trial of George Bush, Dick Cheney and their chief minions would be a public spectacle of perhaps unprecedented scope. Millions of people all over the world would be riveted to it every day; the American public especially would be hanging on its every word. To mount such a defense, on such a powerful platform, would devastate the myth of American exceptionalism like nothing else imaginable. Horrific atrocity, brutal arrogance, deadly ignorance -- again, by both direct and collateral hand -- would all be brought into the glaring light. The principle of violent domination -- continuous, accepted, celebrated, legitimized, institutionalized -- would stand revealed as a core value, if not the core value, of the American way.
Only through such a spectacular act of non-violent "creative destruction" could we hope to sweep away the false narrative that is drummed into every American from birth until it becomes an integral part of their own self-image and their understanding of the outside world: the false narrative of righteous exceptionalism that underpins and "justifies" the monstrous violence of empire. This myth performs a kind of psychic and moral alchemy in the minds of Americans, transmutating the reality of bloodsoaked murder, repression and suffering into benign acts of "liberation" and "humanitarianism."
Removing these blinders would give us a chance to at least begin effecting genuine change and reform in a system that has poisoned its own people and wrought destruction and chaos around the world. It would not restore "the shining city on the hill" -- which never existed, and never can exist, given the manifold imperfections, confusions, and contradictions of human nature; but it might, just might, clear the ground for the construction of a better polity: more enlightened, more just, more humane. That is a noble endeavor I would be glad to join, whatever form it took -- even if that form happened to be the defense of George W. Bush at a war crimes trial.
Not that I believe Bush and his gang of gilded thugs are innocent; they are not. They are sadistic murderers at the outer reaches of depravity. But neither are they aberrations of the system that has produced them. Rather, they are its quintessence, its exemplars, its inheritors and continuers -- and they have, in turn, bequeathed the core value of violent domination to their successors, who have freely and eagerly embraced it. If the Bush gang stands trial, then the entire system must be put on trial; otherwise, their prosecution would be nothing but a show trial, a scapegoating designed to perpetuate the system while appearing to cauterize and cleanse it of a limited, aberrant evil, as Arthur Silber has argued in his powerful series, "Against Prosecution."
Thus the evils inevitably and inescapably produced by a system of violent domination would go on and on, gaining new strength from the reinvigoration of the national myth that has justified so much horror for so long: "See? We got rid of the bad apples; everything is fine now, the system is good now, we're exceptional again, the hill is shining once more." And the righteous bombs of humanitarian liberation would keep falling on the bodies of innocent people.
III. Back to Reality
But we all know there will be no such trial, and certainly no such defense. As we have seen in the last few months, the American political class and its media sycophants have rallied 'round the flag to defend the system's core values. They have made it abundantly clear that they do not consider torture and military aggression to be criminal offenses when these actions are carried out by the American government. Instead, such things are regarded as affairs of state -- matters of policy and politics, subject to factional quibbling over their execution and extent, perhaps, but certainly not a question of law, or justice, or morality.
And so the system and its horrors keep churning on, regardless of the liberal credentials of its current managers. An overseer of a torture chamber and director of death squads, Stanley McChrystal, has now been put in charge of the "good war" in Afghanistan and its inexorable spread into Pakistan. The war crime in Iraq continues unabated, with an increasingly shattered army of desperate, doped-up, burned-out soldiers still loose in a crumbling, broken land, while vast permanent bases are being expanded to house the tens of thousands who will remain behind even after a still- uncertain "withdrawal" plan is completed. The "disease of permanent war," as Chris Hedges terms the swine flu of militarism that rages so virulently through the imperial system, will keep driving the nation, and the world, to one disaster after the next. As Silber puts it:
Intervention always leads to more intervention: the first intervention leads to unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences, which are then used as the justification for still further intervention. That intervention in turn leads to still more unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences, which are then used as yet another justification for still further intervention. The process can go on indefinitely, and the ultimate consequences are always disastrous in the extreme.
American troops raked a large passenger bus with gunfire near the southern city of Kandahar on Monday morning, killing as many as five civilians and wounding 18, Afghan authorities and survivors said....
One of the bus passengers and a man who identified himself as the driver said that an American convoy about 70 yards ahead of the bus opened fire as the bus began to pull to the side of the road to allow another military convoy traveling behind to pass. The two convoys and the bus were on the main highway in Sanzari, about 15 miles west of Kandahar city. All of the windows on one side of the bus were shot out ...
If the Afghan government’s casualty toll is correct, it would suggest that troops fired scores or even hundreds of rounds. It was not clear why such a large fusillade would have been directed at a passenger bus....
Actually, it is very clear why these troops would have decided to "light up" a bus crammed with civilians that was pulling subserviently off the road to let even more of the occupier's military muscle barrel through their invaded homeland. It's because for generations, the Pentagon has been employing every mind-bending technique it can find to turn human beings into killing machines.
And oddly enough, the impetus for this massive, long-term "engineering of human souls" was ... the greatest feat of arms in American history: victory in World War II. As I noted in the Moscow Times, way back in 2004:
America calls its soldiers who fought in World War II "the greatest generation." They are hymned by Hollywood, celebrated by publishers and politicians, hailed at every turn....Yet despite the vast tonnage of celluloid and printer's ink devoted to their praise, what is perhaps the truest, highest measure of their worth has been almost universally neglected. And what is this hidden glory, which does more honor to the people of the United States than every single military action ordered by their corruption-riddled leaders during the past fifty years? It's the fact that in the midst of history's most vicious, all-devouring, inhuman war, only about 15 percent of American soldiers on the battlefield actually tried to kill anyone.
In-depth studies by the U.S. Army after WWII showed that between 80 to 85 percent of the greatest generation never fired their weapons at an exposed enemy in combat, as military psychologist Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman reports. Many times they had the chance, but could not bring themselves to do it. They either withheld their fire altogether or else shot into the air, to the side, anywhere but at the fellow human beings – their blood kin in biology, mind and mortality – facing them across the line. This reticence is even more remarkable given the incessant demonization of the enemy by the top brass, especially in the Pacific, where the Japanese – soldiers and civilians – were routinely portrayed by military propaganda as simian, sub-human creatures fit only for extermination.
Yet even with official license given to the most virulent prejudice .. even with all the moral chaos endemic to warfare, American soldiers, as a whole, killed only with the greatest reluctance, in the direst extremity. These were not "warriors," bloodthirsty automatons with stripped-down brains and cauterized souls, slavering in Pavlovian fury at the bell-clap of command. No, they were real men, willing, as Grossman notes, to stand up for a cause, even die for it, but not willing, in the end, to transgress the natural law (implanted by God or evolution, take your pick) that says: Do not kill your own kind – and every person of every race and nation is your own kind ...
But far from celebrating this example of genuine glory, the military brass were horrified at the low "firing rates" and anemic "kill ratios" of American soldiery. They immediately set about trying to break the next generation of recruits of their natural resistance to slaughtering their own kind. Incorporating the latest techniques for psychological manipulation, new training programs were designed to brutalize the mind and habituate soldiers to the idea of killing automatically, by reflex, "at the bell-clap of command," without the intervention of any of those inefficient scruples displayed by their illustrious predecessors.
And it worked. The dehumanization process led to a steady rise in firing rates for U.S. soldiers during subsequent conflicts. In the Korean War, 55 percent were ready to pump hot lead into enemy flesh. And by the time the greatest generation's own children took the field, in Vietnam, the willingness to slaughter was almost total: 95 percent of combat troops there fired with the intent to kill.
And today in occupied Iraq, the brutalizing beat goes on. "Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, it's like it pounds in my brain," a U.S. soldier told the Los Angeles Times last week. Another shrugged at the sight of freshly slaughtered bodies. "It doesn't bother me at all," he said. "I'm a warrior. My soldiers, they are all warriors. They have no problems. There's no place in this Army for men who aren't warriors." Said a third: "We talk about killing all the time. I never used to be this way…but it's like I can't stop. I'm worried what I'll be like when I get home."
Yet strangely enough, this new model army, imbued with eager "warrior spirit," has not produced the kind of lasting victories won by the reluctant fifteen-percenters of yore. It was stalemated in Korea, defeated in Vietnam, chased out of Lebanon and Somalia, balked in Afghanistan (where 40,000 Taliban troops slipped away to fight again and drug-dealing warlords rule the countryside), while its two excursions into Iraq have ended first in irresolution (with "worse-than-Hitler" Saddam still on his throne) and now in bloody quagmire.
Could it be that the systematic degradation of natural morality and common human feeling – especially in the service of dubious ends – is not actually the best way to achieve national greatness?
Just think, it was once a "scandal" that an American secretary of state gave the green light to a program of "targeted killings" -- assassinations -- murders -- that he knew was about to take place. This was once considered a deeply serious matter -- so staining and shattering to the official's reputation that he has spent almost 35 years lying about it, and having other people lie about it for him: Cable Ties Kissinger to Chile Scandal (AP):
As secretary of state, Henry Kissinger canceled a U.S. warning against carrying out international political assassinations that was to have gone to Chile and two neighboring nations just days before a former ambassador was killed by Chilean agents on Washington's Embassy Row in 1976, a newly released State Department cable shows. ..
In 1976, the South American nations of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay were engaged in a program of repression code-named Operation Condor that targeted those governments' political opponents throughout Latin America, Europe and even the United States...The State Department drafted a plan to deliver a stern message to the three governments not to engage in such murders.
In the Sept. 16, 1976 cable, the topic of one paragraph is listed as ''Operation Condor,'' preceded by the words ''(KISSINGER, HENRY A.) SUBJECT: ACTIONS TAKEN.'' The cable states that ''secretary declined to approve message to Montevideo'' Uruguay ''and has instructed that no further action be taken on this matter.''
...The next day [after Kissinger's orders had been conveyed to U.S. ambassadors by an underling], on Sept. 21, 1976, agents of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet planted a car bomb and exploded it on a Washington, D.C., street, killing both former Ambassador Orlando Letelier, and an American colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Letelier was one of the most outspoken critics of the Pinochet government.
Poor old Henry Kissinger. All that botheration, all those lies, all the years of gut-churning anxiety about scandal, even prosecution -- and for what? Mere complicity in state murder of foreigners carried out by a foreign government? Why, nowadays, we have U.S. presidents openly ordering the murder of American citizens, and nobody bats an eye. There is no scandal, no prosecution -- there is not even any debate. It's just a fact of life, ordinary, normal, unchangeable: the sun rises in the east, cows eat grass, rain is wet, American presidents murder people. What's the big deal?
Anyway, thank God good old Hank is still with us, and that this honorable public servant has lived to see the day when honorable public servants (and so are they all, all honorable public servants) no longer have to worry about the petty snares of law as they go about their sacred duty of keeping us safe.
Let us hear no more excuses for Barack Obama. Let us hear no more defenses, no more special pleading, no more extenuations. Let us have no more reciting of the "pressures" he is under, of the "many obstacles" that balk him in his quest to do us good, of the "bad advisors" who are swaying him to unworthy acts against his will. Let us be done at last with all these wretched lies, these complicitous self-deceptions that are facilitating atrocity and tyranny on a monstrous scale.
Barack Obama has ordered the murder of an American citizen, without trial, without due process, without the production of any evidence. All it takes to kill any American citizen in this way is Barack Obama's signature on a piece of paper, his arbitrary designation of the target as a "suspected terrorist." In precisely the same way -- precisely the same way -- Josef Stalin would place a mark by a name in a list of "suspected terrorists" or "counterrevolutionaries," and the bearer of that name would die. This is the system we have now, the same as the Soviets had then: a leader with the unchallengeable power to kill citizens without due process.
That this power has not been used on the same scale in the American system as in the Stalinist state -- yet -- does not alter the equivalence of this governing principle. In both cases, the leader signs arbitrary death warrants; the security services carry out the task; and the 'great and good' of society accept this draconian power as necessary and right.
This is what you support when you support Barack Obama. It does not matter if you think his opponents in the factional infighting to control a bloodsoaked empire and its war machine are "worse" than he is in some measure. When you support him, when you defend him, when you excuse him, it is arbitrary murder that you are supporting. It is the absolute negation of every single principle of enlightenment and human rights professed by liberals, progressives -- indeed, by honorable people of every political stripe -- for centuries.
There is nothing particularly remarkable about Obama's order to kill an American citizen without trial or evidence, of course. George W. Bush claimed the same powers. As I have noted here and elsewhere for many years, our American presidents now claim the right to kill any person on earth whom they arbitrarily designate as an enemy -- or even a suspected enemy -- of the United States. Barack Obama embraced this power as soon as he took office, ordering a "surge" in the "targeted killings" on "suspected terrorists" in Pakistan. Hundreds and hundreds of innocent human beings have been murdered in these drone attacks; many thousands more have been driven from their homes, and terrorized into lives of mental anguish, their psyches lamed by trauma, upheaval and the ever-present dread of death raining down on them from the skies.
And of course, thousands of innocent people continue to die in the wars of dominion and profiteering that Obama has so eagerly embraced. In Afghanistan, they die directly at the hands of American forces -- including secret assassins who raid villages by night, often slaughtering civilians, even those cooperating with the military occupation. As Obama's hand-picked commander in the region, Stanley McChrystal, has openly admitted: “We have shot an amazing number of people [at checkpoints and on the roads], but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." And in Iraq -- the scene of the abominable, Nazi-like war crime of military aggression whose continuation by Bush's "surge" was hailed by Obama as "an extraordinary achievement" -- innocent people continue to die in droves at the hands of the vicious and violent forces unleashed and empowered by the American invasion and occupation, while they wait to see which brutal "hard man" will seize power over their riven and ruined society.
No, the only remarkable thing about Obama's direct order to murder his fellow American citizen, Anwar al-Alwaki, is its openness. A few weeks ago, he sent his intelligence chieftain, Dennis Blair, to Congress to openly proclaim the president's "right" to kill American citizens arbitrarily. Bush had kept this claimed power obscured, letting it out in dribs and drabs of directed leaks, and hints and winks in public statements; but Obama has taken us beyond that, to the open declaration and institutional entrenchment of the principle of death without due process for citizens. This indeed is "change" -- with a vengeance.
(And to think that only a few years ago, capital punishment -- with its vast and cumbersome legal machinery -- was banished in America as too unjust and arbitrary in its application; now a president need not trouble himself with the slightest bit of legal process if he wants to have someone killed. I suppose this too is "progress": more streamlined, more efficient, quicker, more modern -- like wireless broadband. It's simply there all the time at the president's pleasure.)
Now, there can be no shuffling, no waffling on the matter. Obama has made it crystal clear for even the most avidly self-duping progressive: He will murder his fellow citizens without trial or evidence if he sees fit. The state can murder whom it pleases. This is the system we have. This is what you support when you support Barack Obama. You cannot escape this logic, this judgment. If you support Obama now, in this, then there is no crime he can commit that you will not support.
And thus you become one of those people that we all used to puzzle over, the accomodationists to brutal tyranny: "How did all those people go along with the Nazis? Why wasn't there more opposition to Stalin? How could they countenance all those obvious abominations? What kind of people were they?"
Now you know. They were you. You are them.
** NOTE 1: I should make it clear that I do not think that it is somehow more heinous for the American government to target and kill its own citizens, as opposed to killing foreigners by the thousands, which it has done, on a bipartisan basis, for many a year. I am merely laying out the case in this way so that American "progressives" -- almost of all whom are deeply marinated in their own brand of American exceptionalism -- can see that even by the standards of this exceptionalism, which puts American lives and 'values' above all else, Barack Obama is acting -- undeniably -- in a criminal, tyrannical manner.
NOTE 2: While I was writing this piece, I got the welcome news that Arthur Silber was back, after a long hiatus due to his chronic ill health. And, as usual, his insights cut straight to the heart of the matter. As I noted here the other day, Silber was one of the very few writers who saw through the shining cloud that surrounded the Obama campaign to the corroded core within. He also noted the greatest danger of an Obama presidency: that it would confirm, entrench, expand -- and normalize -- the worst aspects of the American imperium, precisely because the system's crimes and atrocities would now be presented in a more pleasing package, with all "progressive" opposition to them completely disarmed by partisan adherence to their standard-bearer.
Ironically, one of Silber's most incisive pieces on this subject was provoked by what many people -- and almost all "progressives" -- still consider Obama's finest moment during the campaign: his speech calling for a "national dialogue on race" -- part of a particularly brutal effort to knife his long-time friend, mentor and pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, deeply and repeatedly in the back.
Go read the new piece now, and follow the links, which provide chilling chapter and verse to underscore the insights. But here is brief excerpt, one of the conclusions that Silber draws today from that early speech:
If one truly and comprehensively understood Obama's speech on race -- the unending, deadly lies on which it was based, and the terrible consequences to which those lies have led and the devastation they will continue to cause -- that speech told you everything you needed to know about Obama.
That is not hyperbole, not if you understood all of that: it told you everything. .. And what has already occurred during the Obama presidency is very far from all or the worst of the destruction that can reasonably be expected to transpire over the coming years.
UPDATE: David Swanson at Counterpunch nails the situation well: "Murder is the new torture," indeed. As Swanson notes, now that torture -- always with us, but previously shrouded -- has been mainstreamed, acceptance of outright murder is the logical next step. And as Swanson observes, it is actually a much more efficient tool of imperial policy:
President Obama has ordered the murder of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. Like the innocent but tortured Abu Zubayda (innocent at least of any of the crimes he was accused of), Awlaki is now the mastermind terrorist of the universe. And once he's dead, who's to say he wasn't? Who can demand a trail or access to documents? He'll be dead. See the beauty of it?
If the top mastermind is in Yemen, what the hell are we doing building a quagmire in Afghanistan? Don't ask. But notice this: we have dramatically increased the use of missile strikes to assassinate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And we have increased the use of murderous night-time raids to such an extent that we now kill more civilians in that way than we do with drones. They're the "wrong people," or neighbors who came to help, or family members clinging to loved ones. Sometimes they're young students with their hands tied behind their backs. Accidents will happen. But no U.S. officials' future book tours are going to be interrupted by protesters, since there's no torture involved. Civilization is on the march!
So, thanks to Wikileaks.org, Americans now know that their soldiers often gun down civilians in occupied countries during reckless missions based on little or no intelligence (in every sense of the word). This will no doubt come as a great shock -- yea, a veritable political earthquake -- in a land where the top commander in what is now its chief war just recently confessed that his troops were slaughtering an "amazing" number of civilians who posed no threat whatsoever.
We all recall the vast hue and cry that greeted this astounding admission by Afghan top gun General Stanley McChrystal, who was hand-picked by the Nobel Peace Laureate himself to lead America's noble crusade to stamp out Muslim extremism in Central Asia by killing innocent Muslims all over Central Asia. No less than the New York Times its own self reported prominently on McChrystal's chilling candor. To be exact, the "Good War" general told his troops, by videoconference:
“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat."
Remember how the Democrats in control of Congress rushed to set up special committees to investigate the murderous facts behind this admission of atrocity? Remember how the media went 24/7 on wall-to-wall coverage of the Potomac-churning aftermath of McChrystal's unprecedented mea culpa? Remember how the president himself held a special news conference to offer "America's sincere and shamed apology to the innocent victims we have killed so tragically in such amazing numbers"?
And hey, remember how just this weekend, the purple mountain majesties and fruited plains rang with howls of righteous rage when it was confirmed that American Special Forces troops really did kill three innocent women (along with two officials of the American-installed Afghan government) during a savage night raid on a compound of sleeping civilians in February? Remember how all the weekend TV talk shows were filled with America's great and good lining up to denounce the weeks and weeks of outright lies that the Pentagon had told about the killings? Remember how the Democrats in Congress, once again, launched a special committee of investigation into the charges by American-backed Afghan officials that the U.S. Special Forces troops had actually dug their bullets out of the bodies of the slaughtered women in order to cover their tracks after the massacre?
While I am certainly no prophet, I think I am safe in saying we will see a similar reaction to the gut-wrenching footage unearthed by Wikileaks. The American people are simply too good, too just to let stand such a foul besmirching of their national honor. After all, didn't they rise up as one after the Abu Ghraib atrocities were revealed in 2004, and boldly oust the architects of these crimes in the ensuing presidential election? Didn't they take to the streets in their millions when first Bush and then Obama claimed the right to have any citizen put to death without charges or trial simply by declaring the victim a "suspected terrorist"? Didn't a great groundswell of public ire force Congress to open impeachment proceedings against George Bush and Dick Cheney for their Soviet-style gulag of concentration camps and systematic tortures -- and threaten similar justice for Barack Obama's continuation and cover-up of this system? Didn't the American people demand a national day of mourning and atonement when they realized that hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis had been murdered in a war based on false pretenses and cynical manipulation?
So let us have faith in the American people. They have proven time and again in this last decade that they will not countenance crimes and atrocities being committed in their names. They will not abide leaders who unleash a war machine of blood money and blind fury against innocent people. When push comes to shove, when the truth is revealed to them, they will always -- always -- do the right thing.
Charles Davis (via Jon Schwarz) has an incisive take on the high fluttery flail induced in our imperial courtiers by the latest Tea Party tantrums. Davis demolishes a piece in The Nation by progressive paladin Melissa Harris-Lacewell, in which she waxes lyrical -- not to nonsensical -- about the great threat to "the legitimacy of the state" posed by Tea Partiers disrespecting our elected officials. These acts -- spitting, swearing, insulting, shouting, etc. -- which might have been considered legitimate expressions of citizen anger (or at least good clean fun) if directed at, say, George Dubya or Dick Nixon, are now to be regarded as -- I kid you not -- "an act of sedition" when aimed at the ruling party.
It's this kind of thing that gives insipid sycophancy a bad name. But Davis is on the case:
Now, considering that U.S. government imprisons more of its own citizens than any other in the history, with 25 percent of the world's prisoners; that it has more military bases in more countries than any previous empire in history, and has killed millions of people from Iraq to Vietnam; and that its current head, Barack Obama, is openly targeting for extrajudicial killing Americans and foreigners alike, one might ask: why is a liberal magazine so concerned about this state's legitimacy?
Or as Thoreau put it (in a quote that is pretty much the slogan for this blog): "How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it."
Davis is right to draw attention to Obama's astonishingly brazen claim of arbitrary power over the life and death of every person in the world, including American citizens. This is perhaps his most atrocious act of "continuity" with his despised and criminal predecessor. But unlike Bush, Obama has not been hugger-mugger about this assertion of world-engulfing authoritarianism, dribbling it out piecemeal in nods and winks, secret directives, cunning leaks and oblique references. No, he sent his National Intelligence Director, Dennis Blair, to proclaim the president's universal license to kill in open testimony before Congress. Just a few weeks ago, the intelligence poo-bah told the House Intelligence Committee (my, my, so much "Intelligence" around town these days, and so few brains) that Americans (and everyone else) could be killed -- without charge, arrest, trial or defense -- by the U.S. government if said government decides -- secretly, of course -- that the target poses "a threat" of some kind. This assertion of arbitrary power beyond the dreams of even the maddest Roman emperor was greeted with absolute silence by the great and good of the constitutional American republic. No thunderous editorials, no outraged demonstrations -- just nods of acquiescence and indifference.
(Odd that the Tea Partiers -- so het up about encroachments on their liberty -- don't spit about this kind of thing. But then again, a good many of them crave strong-man rule, a tough guy who will 'do what it takes' without fussing about a bunch of namby-pamby rules. They just don't like one of those darkies wielding it.)
But as Davis notes, whatever small, or nascent, or possibly potential threat that the frothier fringe of marginal militants might pose, it is the gargantuan crimes now being committed by our militarist state that we should fear, and resist:
[C]olor me unimpressed with the argument that I have more to fear from the talk radio right than I do the incarcerating-and-assassinating state. ... In addition to the hundreds killed without so much as a show trial by hellfire missiles since the glorious advent of The Liberal Ascendancy, agents of the U.S. government have been implicated in several headline-grabbing atrocities, the latest of which involved the pre-dawn slaying of a pair of pregnant women and a teenage girl. That female civilians are being killed at a level on par with Afghan males is no doubt being hailed in the halls of Brookings as a feminist triumph, but it's more troubling to me than the idea of some people questioning the legitimacy of the perpetrators' employer.
Perhaps they shouldn't just be ignored, but until Glenn Beck's followers kill two dozen people in a remote village, I'm going to spend most of my time focusing on those with control over the tanks and nuclear weapons. And rather than seeking to bolster the state and reinforce the idea of some mythical, mystical social contract, I just might seek to undermine this government, so far as I can, for as long as it continues enriching a politically connected corporate elite while imprisoning and enlisting the rest of its population, no matter how "duly elected" our politicians might be as a result of the sham two-party electoral system. When political leaders are engaged in senseless war and widespread human rights abuses -- and the occupation of Afghanistan and the U.S. prison system at home and abroad qualify -- the person of conscience's duty is not to the state but to justice, which usually means opposing the state and questioning its presumed legitimacy.
But you can be sure that most of our conscience-laden progressives will be more upset about Obama's move to open up vast tracts of coastal waters to oil drilling than his intensification of the wars of dominion on the imperial frontiers. (Obama's oil caper is yet another example where he is treading farther rightward than even Dubya dared to go. But Arthur Silber, among others, nailed this long ago, back during the campaign: Obama's more presentable persona will allow him to entrench and expand the militarist-corporatist system far more effectively than any bumbling, bellicose right-winger could.)
One should never dismiss the "yearning for fascism" that is abroad in the country, of course, a fell and growing mood that Chris Hedges describes so well here. Hedges also locates one of the root causes of this yearning: the complete and utter collapse of the 'left' (using that term very broadly to mean alternatives to the militarist-corporatist imperial system), and its eager co-option by one of the principal pillars of that system: the Democratic Party. As Hedges notes:
The Democrats and their liberal apologists are so oblivious to the profound personal and economic despair sweeping through this country that they think offering unemployed people the right to keep their unemployed children on their nonexistent health care policies is a step forward. They think that passing a jobs bill that will give tax credits to corporations is a rational response to an unemployment rate that is, in real terms, close to 20 percent. They think that making ordinary Americans, one in eight of whom depends on food stamps to eat, fork over trillions in taxpayer dollars to pay for the crimes of Wall Street and war is acceptable. They think that the refusal to save the estimated 2.4 million people who will be forced out of their homes by foreclosure this year is justified by the bloodless language of fiscal austerity. The message is clear. Laws do not apply to the power elite. Our government does not work. And the longer we stand by and do nothing, the longer we refuse to embrace and recognize the legitimate rage of the working class, the faster we will see our anemic democracy die ... If we do not embrace this outrage and distrust as our own it will be expressed through a terrifying right-wing backlash.
But to head off this backlash, we must focus on the system that is producing this miasma of chaos, anger, anxiety and hate -- a system that is teaching its people, by example, that violence, force and lawlessness are glorious and worthy, are, in fact, legitimate. Hedges quotes Cynthia McKinney on this point:
I am a child of the South. Janet Napolitano tells me I need to be afraid of people who are labeled white supremacists but I was raised around white supremacists. I am not afraid of white supremacists. I am concerned about my own government. The Patriot Act did not come from the white supremacists, it came from the White House and Congress. Citizens United did not come from white supremacists, it came from the Supreme Court.
The War Machine -- and the Democrats' avid fealty to it -- is at the corroded heart of the matter. But this love of war (as long as it is visited on other people, far away) is not confined to the ruling elite alone. And this is one reason why even if the inchoate anger expressed by Tea Partiers and others could be harnessed and directed at its proper targets (many of whom, of course, are happily stoking this misdirected rage to keep it away from their own golden nest eggs), it would still fall short of transforming the system. Yes, you could, for example, put our crooked banksters on trial for fraud; but if they were simply replaced by new bankers who, even with heavier regulations and restrictions, still financed the War Machine, then the same corrupting cycle of blood money and bellicosity would rage on unabated. Until Americans drop their addiction to war -- which is inextricably bound up with the widespread, bipartisan cult of exceptionalism -- there will be no stability, no security, no peace, no prosperity for ordinary people, neither at home or abroad. As I noted here last year:
This is the system we have. It’s right out in the open. There is a deep-rooted expectation – and not, alas, just among the elite -- that the world should jump to America’s tune, by force if necessary. And when, for whatever reason, some part of the world does not jump – or bump and grind – to the Potomac beat, then it becomes a “problem” that must be “solved,” by one means or another, with, of course, “all options on the table,” all the time. And whether these “problems” are approached with blunt, bullying talk or a degree of cajolery and pious rhetoric, the chosen stance is always backed up with the ever-present threat of military action, up to and including the last of those “options” that always decorate the table: utter annihilation.
This is not even questioned, must less debated or challenged. America’s right to intervene in the affairs other nations by violent force (along with a constant series of illegal covert activities) – and to impose an empire of military plantations across the length and breadth of the entire planet – is the basic assumption, the underlying principle, the fervently held faith shared by both national parties, and the entire elite Establishment. And if you want to have the necessary instruments to maintain such a state of hegemony, then you must indeed structure your society and economy around war.
Many nations – all vanished now – have done this. The Roman Empire was one. Nazi Germany was another. At great cost to the economic, social and political life of ordinary Germans, Adolf Hitler geared the state to produce the war machine necessary to assert the dominance in world affairs which he felt was Germany’s natural right. One of his chief aims was to procure enough “living space” and natural resources in Eastern Europe to compete with America’s growing economic might. The Holocaust of European Jews was, for all its horror, just a preliminary to the greater “ethnic cleansing” to come. As historian Adam Tooze reminds us in The Wages of Destruction, the Nazis had drawn up detailed plans for the extermination – by active mass murder and deliberate starvation – of up to 40 million East Europeans.
Today, we all recognize the inhuman madness behind this hegemonic ambition. We shake our heads and say, “Whatever evils we may be accused of, we have never and would never do such a thing.” Perhaps. But leaving aside for a moment the millions – millions – of African slaves and Native Americans who died in order to procure the living space and natural resources of North and South America for European peoples, it is clear that most Americans – the elite above all – can easily countenance the deaths of, say, more than one million innocent Iraqis, or upwards of three million Southeast Asians, without any disturbance in their sense of national righteousness, their bedrock belief that the United States has the natural right, even the duty, to assert its hegemony over world affairs.
Unless there is some profound shift in American consciousness, of the sort that Martin Luther King Jr. was trying to effect in his last years, all of this will continue -- even if we have genuine health care reform, genuine rescue of those ravaged by our financial sharks, genuine environmental protection, and so on.
But of course we will not have these "genuines" in any case -- as long as those who profess to oppose the corporatist-militarist system simultaneously support the very people who are directing it. Again, as we noted here:
....the constantly asserted vow to keep the nuclear option "on the table" at all times means that every single action or policy toward a "problem" nation carries with it the explicit threat to kill millions of people – to outdo the Holocaust in a matter of minutes.
Can one really look at such plans and attitudes, and at the towering, Everest-like mountain of corpses produced by American polices – just in the last generation – and say that there is not also a form of inhuman madness behind this hegemonic ambition as well? Is this really a system that one can be associated with honorably in any way? What should we think about a person who wants to lead such a system, who wants to take hold of the driving wheel of the war machine, to use it, to expand it, to accept all of its premises, to keep all of its horrific "options" forever on the table, to feed it and gorge it and coddle it and appease it at every turn, while millions of their own people sink further into degradation and diminishment?
Shouldn't someone who knowingly, willingly, eagerly bent all of their energies toward taking power in such a system instantly and irretrievably forfeit our regard and support? Should we really give such a "leader" the benefit of the doubt, cut him some slack, be ready to praise him when he or his government momentarily behaves in a normal, rational or legal manner? Should we grimly insist that he is the only choice we have, that his heart is probably in the right place, and that all we can do is try and cajole him into being "better"?
As we began with Davis, let's give him the last word:
The proper attitude toward a criminal government is not deference and respect, however much some at The Nation might love a smooth-talking Democrat, but defiance and rebellion -- of the non-violent variety.
UPDATE: The original text of this piece misspelled Melissa Harris-Lacewell's first name. My apologies. The error is now corrected.
Death the great deceiver
Whispers to the soldier
That the love he bears his comrade
Is the greatest he will know
It sets a mist around him
A force field of emotion
A cloud of blood and hormones
That makes monstrous the foe
And when his friend is wounded
When his life pours out in battle
And his spirit leaves his body
Like smoke rising from a flame
The soldier's gripped by madness
The berserker rage of Ares
And he swoops down like a fury
To savage all within his aim
Then falls the grieving mother
Then falls the aged father
Then fall the little children
Who cannot escape the blast
And when the fever's broken
And the soldier stares in horror
He can hear the ghostly echo
Of the Deceiver's bitter laugh
Now far-off stand the leaders
The commanders in their glory
With the profiteers who ply them
With the gold they wring from blood
But alone you'll find the soldier
In a labyrinth of sorrow
In a never-ending darkness
That has drowned him in its flood
Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, “Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?
-- Bob Dylan, "Tombstone Blues"
One can only assume that the regular editors of the New York Times were all out at a party, or left early for a weekend in the Hamptons, or something -- but somehow, the paper published a front webpage story that stated -- without the usual thousand excuses and extenuations -- that American troops are routinely slaughtering Afghan civilians at checkpoints. What's more, the story unequivocally ties the civilian killings to the "surge" ordered by the noble Nobel Peace laureate, Barack Obama.
Here's what the Times says:
American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops, according to military officials in Kabul.
And what is the paper's authority for this astounding admission of atrocity? Not the usual "unnamed sources" or "senior official in a position to have knowledge of the situation," but none other than Obama's hand-picked commander on the Af-Pak front, General Stanley "Black Ops" McChrystal his own self:
“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.
Let's repeat the much-media-lauded general's statement again: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." Now, what would the authorities say if you or I shot "an amazing number of people who have never proven to be a threat?" Why, they would call us murderers -- even mass murderers. Yet this is precisely what "the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan" has just declared, on videotape.
The story goes on to make the extraordinarily straight -- and indisputable -- point that these wanton killings of civilians who have never even "proven to be a threat" is fanning the very "insurgency" (which is the Beltway term of art for any resistance to American military presence") whose quelling is the ostensible reason for the Laureate's "surge" in the first place:
Failure to reduce checkpoint and convoy shootings, known in the military as “escalation of force” episodes, has emerged as a major frustration for military commanders who believe that civilian casualties deeply undermine the American and NATO campaign in Afghanistan.
Many of the detainees at the military prison at Bagram Air Base joined the insurgency after the shootings of people they knew, said the senior NATO enlisted man in Afghanistan, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall.
“There are stories after stories about how these people are turned into insurgents,” Sergeant Major Hall told troops during the videoconference. “Every time there is an escalation of force we are finding that innocents are being killed,” he said.
The story even states plainly that the official figures of admitted killing of unthreatening civilians -- already unconscionably high -- might not be the true extent of these atrocities:
Shootings from convoys and checkpoints involving American, NATO and Afghan forces accounted for 36 civilian deaths last year, down from 41 in 2008, according to the United Nations. With at least 30 Afghans killed since last June in 95 such shootings, according to military statistics, the rate shows no signs of abating.
And those numbers do not include shooting deaths caused by convoys guarded by private security contractors. Some tallies have put the total number of escalation of force deaths far higher.
A spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, Zemary Bashary, said private security contractors sometimes killed civilians during escalation of force episodes, but he said he did not know the number of instances.
The story also presents an example of one slaughter of civilians, and shows how it leads directly to the rise of resistance against the American military presence:
One such case was the death of Mohammed Yonus, a 36-year-old imam and a respected religious authority, who was killed two months ago in eastern Kabul while commuting to a madrasa where he taught 150 students.
A passing military convoy raked his car with bullets, ripping open his chest as his two sons sat in the car. The shooting inflamed residents and turned his neighborhood against the occupation, elders there say.
“The people are tired of all these cruel actions by the foreigners, and we can’t suffer it anymore,” said Naqibullah Samim, a village elder from Hodkail, where Mr. Yonus lived. “The people do not have any other choice, they will rise against the government and fight them and the foreigners. There are a lot of cases of killing of innocent people.”
Finally, the story depicts McChrystal -- again, the handpicked commander of the commander-in-chief -- stating flatly when it comes to the widely ballyhooed "counterinsurgency doctrine" that is supposedly now governing the military occupation of Afghanistan, the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. In other words, it's a full-scale, four-star FUBAR:
More recently, General McChrystal moved to bring nearly all Special Operations forces in Afghanistan under his control. NATO officials said concern about civilian casualties caused by these forces was partly behind the decision, along with the need to better coordinate units and ensure that local commanders were aware of what was happening.
One unit could be doing counterinsurgency, while another carried out “a raid that might in fact upset progress,” General McChrystal explained during the videoconference.
Beyond the bare facts reported by the story -- i.e., the top American commanders acknowledge that their forces are killing scores of innocent civilians who pose no threat to the occupiers, and that their own incompetent policies are actually breeding more hatred and resistance -- there is also the astonishing circumstance that we have a story on the Laureate's "good war" in Afghanistan that is almost entirely nothing but bare facts.
Of course, the story appeared late on a Friday, and will no doubt disappear down the memory hole in short order. (What, you think the Sunday talk shows will be filled with heated discussions about "McChrystal's astounding admission"?) Still, I must admit that when I read the piece, I honestly did a double-take; I thought it was a hoax -- or perhaps a hack. Not because the story seemed implausible -- but precisely because it didn't, and because it was shorn of most of the self-serving, empire-justifying bullshit that surrounds accounts of the "Peace Prize Surge."
Again, just think of it, let it sink in, attend to the word of the commander: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." Again: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." Again: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat."
Again: what do you call it when innocent, unarmed, defenseless people who "have never proven to be a threat" are gunned down in cold blood? What do you call such an act?